I’ve been putting off writing about my Chelsea gallery crawl, it takes so much more mental effort and stresses me out. Its one thing to use my hands to prepare food and write about how delicious it was, its a completely different hemisphere trying to write articulately and coherently about art, its not something you touch, feel, smell or hear. With food there are a myriad ways you can explain, describe, produce, consume, which makes it that much easier and doesn’t require as much conscious effort to focus and contemplate. But I’ve been sporadically writing about art for the last few years and its unfortunatel I haven’t found my art babbler voice, that I still struggle this much, labor and avoid that pile of press releases, save the post as draft and not touch it for days on end, its avoidance and unacceptance. It shouldn’t be this difficult, I should approach it with as much ease as writing about food. The enthusiasm, curiosity and appreciation is there, but the words are limited and lacking. Art appreciation is such an abstract and emotion based experience for me, it doesn’t use any other sense but the eyes and doesn’t require physical sensations or maneuvering that way cooking does. Its not an act, its a mode of meditation, contemplation, reflection. This is why its so difficult for me to write about art, but its what I love and am determined to do. So lets take it one show at a time and write at least a few short blurbs.
After visiting the first few galleries I noticed a pattern: themes of skulls, death and renewal, fear and dread, yearning nostalgia, and avoidant humor. It seems our fears of the next election, the economic crisis, global warming and international recession has affected these works, and each artist reflects these dreadful times through various forms of expression and enlightenment.
Matthew Day Jackson and Chris Johanson were the highlights of my visit, with MDJ showing photographic installations at Nicole Klagsbrun and large sculptures and paintings at Peter Blum and CJ’s all encompassing painted environments at Deitch Projects. While MDJ reflects on the sublime and transcendental elements of life and death, CJ displayed more a more playful reflection of human history and its influence on the present.
The collection of framed-images-arranged-as-sculpture at Nicole Klagsbrun was successfully poignant in capturing the human experience from an archive of resources and gathering them into these eye-catching non-linear narratives. I found “And Babies? And Babies.” to be especially profound and masterfully installed. It shows an image of 2 astronauts collaged beneath a flourscent light bulb making it as if they were walking on this ray of light that points upward and above toward a protest poster of the My Lai massacre depicting dead children and mothers. Its the perfect juxtaposition of hopeful exploratory invasion and its possible consequence of suffering and destruction. Works like these are ripe with context and are installed with such sublime presentation, I felt I was inside a time capsule as cabinet of curiosities.
The works included at Peter Blum was not as linear and curated with mediums ranging from used blankets, skulls, yarn and formica. There were signs of death and renewal in each work and he uses historical references such Goya as well as used and found material to re-present and re-define already existing objects. He takes what he knows and makes it his own, a reflection of everyday experience, and tells a hopeful message that although life can be dreadful and full of fear and death, we have the ability to take these elements and re-process it into an accepting, creative force that is tolerable and compassionate. Jackson creates a discourse between semantics, formalism, and yoga philosophy through his use of materials and context and I feel there is not enough I can say or not enough room to expand on the wide vocaublary of his process, but be assured this artist knows what he’s talking about and he’s got one succint, capricious, articulate voice.
Chris Johanson seemed to me a bit more silly and light-hearted with his all encompassing environments at Deitch. The set up was cinematic and sculptural, paintings in various sizes installed in descending/ascending scale standing freely supported by wooden planks. Painting as sign, connected as if to tell a progressing narrative except each has his own story to tell, and we need to read between the lines to get it. Entering the gallery I faced a floor to ceiling wall of painted grids, shades of skin color that were subtle and calming. There is a door that you creep through and enter yet another time-capsule, with a rock shaped jagged cone made of nailed woodscrap. You’re inside a wooden teepee and are witnessing some tribal ceremony worshipping this rotating silly cone with these painting-as-signs gathering, circling around this object, active and animated in their vibrant colors, crude figurative shapes, rays and patterns. It was sombre, creepy, flashy, and humorous all at the same time. Johanson is telling a story, about the start of civilization, about human and nature and the landscapes we impose, compose, de-compose. It was impossible to get a frontal close up view without having to be on the side and glare from a slant and that was annoying because I would’ve loved to really delve into each painting, give each one its due attention, but it was difficult to do, how frustrating yet so telling about what the focus of this installation was. He’s telling a story and he doesn’t want you do be bothering by close up formal elements, just glance at all of them at the same time and get a feeling from the environment itself, how the rooms creates a collective conscious, a gathering to a focal point that maybe represent the life force of all beings, a centering of history and its reflection on the gleaming eye of the present.
Upstairs were more crude figurative drawings/illustrations with text captions. It was less forumlated but still a labyrinth layout with the freestanding frames interconnected forcing you to peep over some, turn corners and make sure you don’t trip over any of the planks. There were one-liner drawings that were abstract, euphomism-y, and symolic rather than straightfoward. There is a dark humor here that is subtle and vague and I found the show in its entirety to be very fulfilling for a curious mind, stimulating conceptual personal wonderings merged with performative and jagged narrative. The rich thick colors of the paint were also very pleasing and fulfilling to the eye.